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RAGBRAI Training: General Training Information Regarding RAGBRAI

  • 19 March, 2021
  • Andrea Parrott

As we kick off the training season for RAGBRAI XLVIII, here are some general training tips to keep in mind.  I will be addressing these in more details as we go along through the season. But here are some highlights.

Riders pedal past the grain elevator in Ritter during RAGBRAI on Sunday, July 20, 2014.

Distance: If you do the entire course, the distance of this year’s ride is 454.1 miles.  There are two days of 84 miles (Sunday and Thursday). The other days are typically 50-60 odd miles. That’s quite a ways to ride a bike in a day and in a week. However, thousands of people each year prove it can be done. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete to complete it. However, if you do complete it, I will give you an honorary title of ‘athlete’, as it is quite an athletic feat.  Any halfway fit person can complete the entire ride. But it will take some preparation, especially if you want to enjoy your time on the bike.  So here’s a few of my thoughts on completing RAGBRAI and enjoying yourself while riding it (and after).  Conditioning will help your have a  better ride. The best preparation is to (duh) ride your bike!  Nothing will prepare you better for RAGBRAI than to get on your bike and get in training miles. Lots of them will help. My rule of thumb is to get in 1000 miles of training prior to RAGBRAI. That may sound like a lot but spread out over the next 4.5 months, it’s really not that much.  Please refer back to my training plan for a suggested amount of riding you might consider doing. If you do the plan as written you will have more than 1500 miles of riding in prior to RAGBRAI.

You don’t have to ride fast – but you need to be ready to go the distance. And it isn’t just your legs that have to go the distance, your whole body goes along for the ride, and often it isn’t the legs that give out first. Sitting on a bike for several hours requires that your arms, shoulders, neck, hands, feet and tush are up for the challenge. Part of the reason for doing all this riding before RAGBRAI starts is to get all these body parts used to it.  So focus on duration more than speed. On 84 mile days, if you ride 8 mph you will complete the distance in 10 hours of riding time.  We have about 15 hours of daylight. So you even have plenty of time to stop and enjoy the events along the way.  And 8 mph is really quite slow – most of you will ride much faster than that. But keep in mind, the slower you ride, the longer you will be sitting atop your steel (or carbon fiber) steed.

Climbing:  If you do the entire course, the total elevation climbed in this year’s ride is 11,954 feet.  Iowa is flat (relative to states like Colorado maybe) but we have our share of ups and downs.  11,954 feet is about a third of the way up Mt Everest. Of course it is spread out over 7 days but if you are expecting pan flat riding, try Nebraska! There are enough hills in Iowa to make you work, even if they are short. They are frequent though.  And towards the end of the day when you are hot and tired, they can seem endless.  So be prepared.  Try to get hills into your riding as you do your training rides. The difference between riding and training is with training, you look for hills, not avoid them.  If you don’t happen to live in a hilly area, I will be providing you some tips this season on how to mimic hills.

Eating and Drinking:  Another way to have a great ride is to properly fuel and hydrate yourself both during your training and during RAGBRAI.  Another way to wreck your riding is to eat too little or too much, to drink too little or too much, or eat or drink the wrong stuff.  I will be addressing what optimal fueling should look like as we go along. And you should practice eating and drinking during your training so you know what your body can handle.

And finally, remember that RAGBRAI is a bike RIDE not a bike RACE.  You don’t have to be fast to complete it. There are no first place finisher prizes. I might even suggest that people who ride it more slowly have more fun! And isn’t that what RAGBRAI is all about?

Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team  and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at cyclecoach@hotmail.com .

1 Comment

  1. Jeff Backert

    Only took you forever to focus on the hills. You completely left out hills in your 2019 training dialogs and a lot of people got smoked who followed your training guide. If you recall the southern route in 2019 was a continual sequence of hills until just about he very end when there was one very very steep hill at the end. That said, why don’t you explain the advantages they get from training hills relative to conditioning, speed and stamina.

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